A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
Dunces is the funniest book ever written, the kind of funny so smart and profound and forceful that half the time you can’t even laugh because what’s happened is bigger than laughter can hold. I’ve read it half a dozen times and on this occasion read it to my wife, and every single time I’ve found new things to love and jokes I missed in previous read-throughs.
The long and short of Dunces is that it’s about a man, Ignatius J. Reilly, who is an idiot, believes he is the smartest person in the world, and proceeds to absolutely destroy the lives of everyone he meets, including his own mother, a beat cop who is forced by his CO to wear a false beard, the entire staff of a dying pants company, a racist nightclub entrepreneur/pornographess, the owner of a hot-dog cart empire and a house party full of what were, for the 60’s, fairly progressive depictions of uh, young men with fashion sense and a penchant for Judy Garland. Interestingly, for a book written by a white dude in the 60’s about New Orleans, every black character in the book is portrayed positively, being painted as canny and far more decent than the white society that oppresses them, though this is through the lens of the practical results of that oppression and so the depiction is maybe less sensitive than a modern author’s would be, but is a clear reflection of the social stations and resources available to them at the time, with and through which they still manage victory.
One of the more interesting aspects of Dunces‘ history is how it had to struggle to live; its author, John Kennedy Toole, committed suicide in 1969 and his mother found the manuscript and spent the next eleven years taking it from publisher to publisher, demanding someone appreciate her son’s work, until someone finally did and saved a jewel of the English language from the garbage heap. Mothers got a hard road.
Score: 9/10 Mother’s Fabulous Hats
Yoboy, this book. Tom King is a genius, of which fact I first became aware when reading The Vision, and I don’t have anything to say about that book that others haven’t said before and better than I could. And honestly it’s much the same here; I don’t have any familiarity with the source material except a handful of Darkseid-centric JLA/JLU episodes and King still managed to make me care deeply about–and, in one case, be profoundly frightened of–these characters. He also did what stories are supposed to do: used masks to tell true stories in such a way that we wouldn’t be blinded by looking directly at them.
A man tries to live peacefully with his wife and not let their lives and selves be destroyed by the traumas the endured in their youths, which still rear their heads. Things get complicated when they learn they’re having a baby, the man’s father wants to involve himself in his grandson’s life, and the couple are forced to confront the possibility that they’ll inflict those same traumas on their child in the course of trying to prevent them.
This is a good story, a True Story, and the fact that its given a set-dressing of gods and heroes and planets far from our own doesn’t make it less so, just more palatable, and providing a layer of protection between these events and our hearts. As Mike Carey said in The Unwritten, “For-real true is only true right now. Story-true is true forever.”
Score: 9/10 Deluxe Veggie Platters
now she’s in the air, radical and free